SAVING THE SHAVINGS: Four Writerly Reasons to Hold on to the Tossed Bits

Framed Shavings

My artistic daughter thought these pencil shavings were so beautiful she wanted me to save them.  We took this picture instead. For months I forgot about them, until I rediscovered them while browsing through old photos.

I find these lovely shavings inspiring.  As writers, our job is to whittle away at our stories, sharpening them until they shine.  But sometimes, in our haste to perfect the story or poem at hand, we foolishly toss the shavings. Those shavings, however, often contain precious marrow which, if tossed too quickly, we will later regret. So, before you hit delete or permanently toss old story bits, here are four thoughts to consider.

Oops! It Wasn’t a Shaving After All!  I can’t tell you how many times in the processing of revising, I have deleted a phrase or thought that I later regretted. Thank goodness, I learned early not to permanently delete anything when whittling a piece. Instead I “cut” the phrase or sentence that I think isn’t working and “paste” it in a repository at the end of the document. That way ALL my thoughts are captured and preserved, so if I realize later that something wasn’t a shaving after all, it’s still safe and sound in my shavings collection.

One Story’s Shaving Is Another Story’s Spark.  When working on a new piece, I like to brainstorm and write in my journal. Sometimes this takes up pages and pages. Over the years, I’ve been tempted to toss these old chicken scratchings, but I’m so glad I haven’t. Do you know how many new ideas those old notes have sparked? Shavings and shavings worth! (Bigger than the lovely heap pictured above.) My advice, then, is to find a nice box or shelf to store your old journals and unused writing bits so that one day when you feel uninspired, you can search those old shavings for the marrow of a new story or poem!

Is That a Shaving or is that a Sequel?  If a book does well, your publisher might be interested in a sequel. I keep this hopeful thought in mind when revising.  I tend to be an overwriter – infusing way more plot twists and content than a 32-page picture book can handle.  Over time, I’ve learned to put asterisks or boxes around plot twists or snippets of text that don’t fit the current story but which might be the spark for a sequel.

Save those shavings for posterity (or at least for school visits)! When speaking with students about writing picture books, they LOVE it when I can show them concrete evidence that published pieces go through many, many rounds of whittling before they are ready for print.  Here’s where those awkward early rhymes or plot twists that I wisely shaved off my story come in handy. Students love them! They also enjoy glimpses into early brainstorming notes or lists. Indeed, a thoughtful assortment of  select shavings that illustrate various truths about the writing and revising process will bring school presentations to life!

Happy sharpening all and remember to save the shavings!

(Note: I re-discovered this post from March 2016 while browsing through my blog archives. I found it inspiring so decided to post again.  I hope it inspires you, too, as you set about writing this week.)

GUEST POST: The Inspiration Behind LOVE IS KIND

Version 2A few weeks ago Christian blogger, writer, and inspirational speaker Sally Matheny reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in being a guest on her blog.  I was honored to be asked and delighted to write a post. The topic I chose was the inspiration behind LOVE IS KIND.  You can find that piece here and it includes a special giveaway – a free 15 virtual visit with me!

In addition, LAST week Sally posted a very thoughtful review LOVE IS KIND.  You can find the review here.

Thank you, Sally, for inviting me to share my thoughts and for sharing your thoughts about LOVE IS KIND.

Happy Monday, all!

 

Schedule a School Visit with Laura Sassi

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As a former teacher and ever champion of reading and writing, I love visiting schools.  I am currently in the process of setting up my 2018 – 2019 school visit calendar. My picture book visits are perfect for students, PreK thru Grade 2.

During a visit I typically do any or all of the following:

  • Read the story using puppets to help with the story telling.
  • Celebrate the special ability of picture books to tell a story using both pictures and words. Demonstrate that neither is complete without the other.
  • Take the children on an engaging journey that shows how an idea goes from inspiration to publication (and get them excited about their own writing too!).
  • Share interesting “artifacts” including early drafts & sketches, proofs, folded galleys & more.
  • Participate in a Q&A session. 
  • Provide post-visit writing prompts so they can write their own illustrated stories!

Understanding that priorities differ, I will happily work with you to tailor the visit to your needs. 

I prefer classroom presentations (30 – 40 minutes each) to whole school assemblies so students can better interact with the author, ask questions, and see the artifacts.  Classes may be combined. 

Options:  1/2 day (from start of day until lunch)  or full day. I am also available for Skype visits.

For information regarding fees, visit details,  book orders etc., please contact me via the “contact” tab in the blog header.

I look forward to hearing from you.

PLUCKING SAPLINGS:  Thoughts on THE LITTLE PRINCE and, of course, WRITING!

IMG_7234 2One of my favorite books as a child was LE PETIT PRINCE which I read in French because we were living in Paris at the time.  My teacher, Mme. Lucas, chose it for our class because it was relatively simple in terms of word choice and sentence length, which was perfect for intermediate level students (and foreigners) like me.  But even as an eleven year old, I understood that there was more to the story than the relatively simple word choice and plot structure.  THE LITTLE PRINCE, I soon discovered, had the magic ability to touch readers on different levels.  It was my first exposure to allegory and symbolism and reading it brought storytelling to life for me in a new way that still resonates with the reader and writer in me.

But, there was one part of the book that for years I just didn’t get. What was up with those pesky baobabs? The Little Prince was so adamant about plucking them the minute they sprouted on his little asteroid B612, that he insisted the narrator draw a picture of what a planet overrun by baobabs might look like as a warning to children who might travel to faraway planets as he had. “If you attend to a baobab too late,” he warned, “you can never get rid of it again!” As a child, the picture of the baobab infested planet was of my favorites because I thought it so preposterous.

To this day, every time I pluck a wayward oak or maple or elm sapling, I think of the Little Prince and those baobabs which is, in and of itself, a testament to the power of story. It wasn’t until last summer however, when an unusually large number of Rose of Sharon saplings invaded a corner of our back yard, that I fully appreciated his insistence on attending promptly to wayward saplings.

IMG_7231At first, I ignored our sprouting Roses of Sharon. After all, they were small and green and seemingly harmless, right?  By end of summer, though, I had second thoughts and decided I should pluck them.  And guess what? The Little Prince was right!  I had waited too long. It was such hard work plucking all those tenacious little saplings that I vowed never again to ignore a wayward sapling.  However, I noticed this summer that I didn’t quite get them all, which attests to his princely wisdom.

I think the Little Prince’s wisdom can be applied to our writing as well.  First,  if we’re not careful, just like that baobab-infested planet, the little planet that is our work-in-progess can quickly become overrun with filler words, tell-y descriptions, forced plot twists etc.  Our job as writers, then, is, first, to be able to recognize those unwanted story bits, and second, to be willing to pluck them, just as the Little Prince insisted, before they take over our story planet.  

IMG_6656But the Little Prince didn’t pluck everything. He allowed some seedlings to grow, like his treasured rose. He tended to that rose with the utmost care because she, unlike the baobab, was the perfect size for his planet.  And he liked her company. Likewise, our writing notebooks and computer files are filled with all sorts of stories-in-progress.  Some have more potential than others. The trick is to have the discernment to see which story seedlings are worth pursuing so they grow into magnificent – publishable – stories.  

With that last thought in mind, I’d like to share one final image. Nine years ago I spotted a wayward sapling growing in the garden by the fence.  It was a nice little sapling and I kind of liked it there, so let it be and it grew… and grew… and grew. It now provides nice shade in that part of the yard. It turns out it’s an elm, the offspring, probably, of the old elm just up the street that had to be chopped down last summer because, after almost 100 years, it was sick.  And now… there’s a new tree – with a new story to tell.  

IMG_7230This week as you sit down to write, what kinds of seedlings do you spot – both within your stories-in-progress and in the larger body of your ideas and projects? Are there some story bits that need to be plucked or stories-in-progress that need to be set aside? Then do that! But surely there are also a few projects or ideas, that like this vibrant young elm, are meant to survive and thrive and enrich the world. Don’t pluck those! Instead tend to them with loving care!  Happy writing, all! 

Keynote Speaker Tami Charles’ Words of Wisdom

My wonderfully talented author friend Tami Charles was the keynote speaker at this past weekend’s NJSCBWI Annual Conference. She was so inspiring and this lovely post by author Naomi Gruer captures the spirit and light of her speech so well! Be inspired!

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Author Tami Charles

Charles delivering her keynote speech at the NJSCBWI18 conference.

Inspiration for Everyone

Tami Charles, whose middle grade novel Like Vanessa debuted in March, delivered a keynote speech at the NJSCBWI18 conference this past weekend.

She talked about the value of hope. “Somewhere between no and yes lies hope.”

She talked about rejections. “The word no has empowered me, broken me, and put me back together again.”

She talked about persistence. “You keep writing. You don’t stop.”

And she said, “Step into your greatness.”

Thanks, Tami, for words of wisdom that ring true for me as a writer and also for anyone trying to reach a seemingly insurmountable goal.

Click here to watch a short video about Charles and Like Vanessa. Take one guess which book I’m buying as gifts for some important tween girls in my life.

In this semi-autobiographical debut novel set in 1983, Vanessa…

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EXTRA! EXTRA! News Reporter Miss A. Weighs in on Latest AUTHOR VISIT!

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As part of our homeschool time together, I have looked for opportunities to make writing experiences as authentic as possible for my reluctant writer, so when Miss A. asked if she could join me on a Friday afternoon author visit to her old elementary school, I said yes – IF she agreed to be a journalist for the afternoon – taking notes on the visit, conducting a few interviews, and then putting it all together into a news article, using the format we’ve been examining while reading our local newspaper together.  She fully embraced the assignment!  Take it away, Miss A!

AUTHOR LAURA SASSI VISITS SCHOOL

By Miss A.

CRANFORD – On Friday, May 4th, my mother, picture book author Laura Sassi, came to Bloomingdale Avenue School to share her new book, Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse with kindergarteners through second graders. The purpose of her visit was to get kids excited about reading and writing and to share a little bit about how a picture book goes from inspiration to publication. 

Starting at 1:00 pm, three different groups came to the auditorium for this special event. The students quietly listened to their teachers and all had smiles on their faces. The kids looked very excited and happy to see that a special guest had come to visit them at their school. 

Dressed like a diva herself, and using lots of expression, even singing, Laura Sassi read her newest book. The kids “ooohed” and “aaahed” as if they were watching fireworks. After reading Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse, the author showed the students the very first drafts of her story. She even showed the kids pictures of what Diva Delores looked like before she was a seal. The kids were surprised that she was once a hippo! Untitled

A few days after the visit, I had the chance to interview a student and two teachers to see what they thought of the visit. Everyone was very positive. Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Benoit, said that the favorite part for her students was “the author in costume and the use of her voice demonstrating not just fluency, but voices and even sound effects”.   She added that because of the visit, “The use of voices is starting to show up in speech bubbles in their writing.”  

Second grade teacher, Mrs. Oricchio, praised the visit as making “the art of writing a ‘real world’ experience” for her students.  She added, “I think Mrs. Sassi’s energy and passion for her work really came through and inspired my young writers.”

I was lucky enough to get student feedback as well! Second grader, Taylor, explained that her favorite part of the visit was when the author “dressed up fancy and was reading Diva Delores”.  She added that the visit also inspired her to make a writing notebook for her own stories. 

It was amazing being able to see my author mom in action reading her book. I could tell that the teachers and all the students enjoyed the visit. My mom enjoyed it too, especially when one of the students raised her hand and said, “You look like a movie star!” But my favorite moment was when I was able to reunite with all my teachers from kindergarten through second grade. I was so happy to be able to see my teachers and I was so happy to see so many kids enjoying and listening to the book.

FAN MAIL with MISS A: Thank you, Tami Charles!

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Today Miss A. – my reluctant reader and writer – asked if she could write a guest post to share her excitement over receiving an author-response to a recent fan letter she wrote to an author whose book she LOVED.  Maybe, I need to rephrase this… Today, my daughter, who USED to be a reluctant reader and writer – asked if she could write this guest post.  My response?  Of course!  Take it away, Miss A.! 

Have you ever been inspired to write a letter to an author whose book you loved?  Well, I was inspired to write one to author Tami Charles after reading her book Like Vanessa (Charlesbridge, 2018).

Like Vanessa is about a girl named Vanessa who enters a school pageant as a way of finding her happiness and who discovers that happiness isn’t found exactly where she thought it was.  

After reading Tami’s book, I just knew I had to reach out to her.  In the letter, I told her how much I loved her book and how I found her book such an inspiration for me. I found her book inspiring because I’ve always had trouble having to speak up for myself. Her book shows me that I can be strong and have confidence in myself.

I’ve written fan letters before, but never gotten a response. This time, however, was different because in the mail today I received a special letter from Tami Charles! And here is a little piece of that letter:

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In her wonderful letter, she explained that she wrote the book for girls just like me and she thanked me for writing her an old-fashioned letter!  I may even get to meet her this summer!  

Thank you, Tami, for inspiring me with your book and for taking the time to answer my letter!  I will keep it tucked forever in my copy of Like Vanessa!

THE POWER OF SETTING: Thoughts on Making Picture Books Shine

Setting Collage 5:13:18This morning, I am honored to be guest blogging over at picture book author Danna Smith’s blog, Picture Book Playlist. Today’s topic?  The power of SETTING to make a picture book story SHINE. So, I hope you refill that delicious cup of coffee you’re sipping right now and pop on over for a read.  I’ll make it easy for you.  Here’s the link.  Thank you for having me, Danna!

“Scuffin” or “Mone”: 4 TIPS to TEST the TASTINESS of your STORIES

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My daughter loves creating new recipes and one of her favorite strategies in the kitchen is to take a tried-and-true favorite, and then add an unexpected twist.  Most of the time her creations are delicious, but tonight, as I’m reminiscing about her joyful kitchen spirit, I’m reminded of the time she proudly offered me her fresh out of the oven creation – “the scuffin”, as she called it, a creative combination of two favorite teatime treats – the muffin and the scone.  Sounds delish, right?

We thought so too, so before actually tasting them, we posted on Facebook this delectable-looking picture along with this tantalizing description:  

“Crispy on the outside like a scone and fluffy on the inside like a muffin…with chocolate chips too. Yum!”

Immediately, “likes” and congratulatory comments filled my Facebook timeline.  But, to our horror, when we took our first nibbles we discovered they were… awful! Thus, in the interest of full-disclosure, I added this to the post:

“…to be perfectly honest, once we tried them we both agreed that they were a little heavy and they stuck to the paper. I think, in all honesty, that they should be called “mones” instead of “scuffins” because that better connotes the feeling you have have after eating one.”

Writing can be a lot like baking. Often, the results of experimentation are successful, but sometimes instead of picture book “scuffins” we produce “mones”.  So what’s the secret to distinguishing between story drafts that are light and delicious, as opposed to “mone” inducing?  Miss A. and I are so glad you asked. Here are our suggestions:

TIP #1: Give your “scuffin”, er story, time to cool before tasting. This will allow you to remove yourself a little from the the process, so that you can discern – without so much emotion – whether your creation is light and delicious… or not.

 TIP #2: Keep track of  drafts so you know what’s working or not in each round of recipe, er story, creation, so you can add and modify intelligently. After assessing her recipe notes, Miss A. thought, perhaps, that she added too much oil to her batter, and in revising for the next batch, she used less.  The new “scuffins”, IMHO, were better, as a result. Likewise, if you keep track of changes/additions/deletions made to each draft of your story, you can more easily assess and make effective improvements.

TIP #3: Let a few trusted critiquers sample and give feedback on your latest “scuffin” in progress.  As Miss A. discovered, the feedback from a slightly more seasoned baker (me!), was just what she needed to take her “scuffin” from “mone” to “magnifique”!

TIP #4: DO NOT send to local bakeries, i. e. publishers, too soon!  Not that Miss A has even considered marketing her kitchen creations, it’s still good advice. Far too many new writers, submit their work to publishers far too quickly when patience, I have learned, is the better way… by FAR!

Well, that’s it from the Sassi kitchen today!  Happy story baking!

SCHOOL VISIT: Thank you, West End School of North Plainfield!

 

I LOVED sharing DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE with the amazingly attentive 280+ kindergarten- second graders at West End School in North Plainfield. It was my largest gathering to date, but that didn’t stop them from being fabulous listeners. How do I know? I know because they laughed at all the right parts and were sad and concerned at all the right parts. Moreover, both before and after the story, they were right with me as we chatted about where writers get their ideas and what it means to use our imaginations. And when I asked them about readerly things such as the story’s setting, characters, conflict and even theme, those hands shot up like lightning and the answers they provided were bright and on target as anything. In fact, they were such an attentive, inquisitive bunch, that I even opened the floor to questions!  

The visit was one of the culminating events for a month long celebration of reading and writing and I’d just like to close by complimenting the teachers. You are doing a wonderful job of instilling those sweet kids with a love of reading and writing and that makes my heart happy!

Thank you for having me, West End School, and thank you for organizing the event, Barnes and Noble (Springfield, NJ)

HAPPY READING AND WRITING, all!